Eriko’s curiosity to discover and learn about people and places, led her to leave her home country, Japan, and come to the United States when she was a teenager.
A: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
E: I’m originally from Osaka, Japan and the first time I came here was when I was a senior in high school. I was an exchange student and I had an opportunity from my language school to go to a public high school in Arizona. I did pretty well even though my English wasn’t so good. I stayed with a host family and a year later, I went back to Japan. After a year and a half of soul searching, I came back to the states to go to college. Ever since then, I’ve been living here, graduated in 1999 and have been working as a Physician Assistant.
A: Did you always want to become a Physician Assistant?
E: I thought I wanted to become an architect but I struggled with physics and math. I love science but those are not my favorite subjects, it’s hard to comprehend and apply. It wasn’t pleasant for me. I got recruited to go into a PA program. It’s applied science and my professors told me it’s decent pay so I went with the flow. I love medicine. It’s a difficult program to get into but I feel pretty fortunate and lucky. My program was two years undergraduate prerequisite and two years of the PA program. I work in the Bronx and I’ve been working as a PA in internal medicine for 22 years now.
A: Did your parents want you to do a particular occupation?
E: My parents wanted me to go to college. Neither of them went to college because they ran a family business. My mom, who is from Toyama, Japan, was the youngest, one of seven, and she was always told girls are not supposed to go to college. Back then girls weren’t encouraged to get higher education. My parents had no expectations of me except to make sure I get a college education. They were very supportive with me coming to the U.S. I’ve gone back to Japan to visit them every year but since the pandemic, I haven’t been back.
A: Do you relate to Japanese culture? What ethnicity do you identify with?
E: I’m Asian, Japanese. The only connection I have in Japan is my parents. I don’t have a daily connection with the Japanese culture. I lost touch with the friends I had in Japan from high school. I have a couple of Japanese friends here but they are very American. I still do relate to the Japanese culture and I’m very proud of it. I still speak the language since my parents don’t speak English. It’s more difficult to read Japanese.
I relate to both the Japanese and American culture. I think Japanese people do too much. If you ask a question and they don’t know the answer, they will go and ask someone else and literally run to get an answer. I won’t be able to live like that. It’s expected of you. They want you to conform to the norm and be a certain way. Look and behave a certain way. There are certain expectations and no one is special.
When I was a child I was always rambunctious and I feel I didn’t fit in. I always wanted to explore the world. When I started to learn English, I looked into places where I can go. When I was a sophomore in high school, my school had a summer program and we went to Europe- London, Italy, France. Since then I knew I wasn’t just going to stay in Japan. I want to travel and discover.
A: What does the term people of color mean to you?
E: Racism is very rare in Japan because we are all Japanese, so I was very blinded and I still don’t see much of it. It stems from slavery and segregation. To me the term people of color has a lot to do with white vs. black people. Being an Asian person, I haven’t faced much racism. Maybe I’m naïve or don’t recognize it. There are so many different race and cultures in New York so I think we tolerate each other more.
A: Tell us a little about Japan and the Japanese culture
E: In general, Asians don’t like confrontations. I live in a very Jewish neighborhood where I feel I don’t exist to them. They don’t care to mingle with you or care to get to know you. But I also understand their culture. Their culture is very introverted to me and they like to operate within their own people. I work with a lot of Jewish people in the hospital and I ask them why they behave the way they behave and they talk to me.
When my dad visited NY and I took him to Chinatown, we went to a store. My dad complained the people were mean and not helpful. My good friend who is from Hong Kong explained that they are not open for you, they are open for their own people, they don’t need your business, that’s why they are not nice to you. I perceived they were being mean because it’s different from my culture. Japanese culture they will go out of their way to help you. Some people might perceive it as racism but if you look at it from another perspective, you might feel different about it.
Japanese culture is a “We” culture, not “I”. Everyone is always thinking about others and what you can do to solve the problem for others.
I lost my Japanese citizenship in 2014 when I became an American. We don’t have dual citizenship. Many want to stay in Japan because life in Japan is comfortable, not so many crimes or homeless people. Government will assist you. Everybody who is a citizen has healthcare.
A: Do you consider yourself an atypical Asian?
E: Most Japanese stay indoors. I like being outside. I like being near water, the mountains and hiking. I think I got it from my dad who is an avid fisherman. He used to always take me hiking. His work right now is going to the mountains and cutting down trees and doing maintenance.
A: What message do you want to impart to others about Asians?
E: I think we are all here for the same reasons. We need to get along to make this place better. We may be quiet but we are not pushovers. I learned to be more vocal but sometimes I hate that. I still struggle. Just be nice. I don’t know why people are so angry. I wish people would be more kind. I hope we can adopt good things from each culture and make us better.